Mike Jay isn't one of those guys who throws a couple of burgers on the grill, tosses some salt and pepper on them and calls it dinner.
A week ago, with temperatures tipping 90 degrees, he moved about his deck whipping up multiple entrees: a whole chicken, stir fry vegetables, potatoes stuffed with bacon and cheese, pork chops, steak, portabella mushrooms stuffed with tomato, bacon, basil, spicy cheddar and bistro cheeses, and smoking a beef brisket. Grills are grilling, smokers are smoking - five in all, and the aroma is out of this world.
Today's dishes will feed guests from the Dispatch and go into the freezer for family dinner on ballgame nights. "We always have things in the freezer that are already done," he said, "Then we just have to heat them up when we get home."
"I cook all the time. It's terrible," he said, hopping from a grill to a smoker. He likes to grill so much he and his sidekick, daughter Shaylea, say they rarely use their oven and stove inside their home.
Hamburgers and pork chops cooked on the grill last week at Mike Jay's Brainerd home. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls » Purchase reprints of this photo.
Mike has learned some of his tricks from the best in the business. He helps friends that compete in barbeque competitions around the nation. While doing so he's met people with names like "Dr. BBQ," "Jumpin' Jim" and "Fast Eddie," some recognizable to those who watch the Food Network.
"Whenever I can get away and I know they're going to a contest I'll call one of the guys up and say, 'Do you need a dishwasher?'"
Tips on mastering
grill from Mike Jay
It's important to know the temperature of the meat you cook. Temperatures must reach 160 degrees for beef, 160 degrees for pork, 165 degrees for poultry and 145 degrees for fish. These are internal temperatures. Make sure your thermometer is not against a bone or it will give you a false reading.
Don't apply sauces too early. This can make food burn.
Don't use too lean of meat for hamburgers. Anything more than 70-85 percent and the burgers will stick and lose flavor.
Using wood chips when cooking or grilling can jazz up the taste. Mike's favorites are apple, pecan and cherry. He also likes Jack Daniels chips made from old whiskey barrels.
Meat doesn't have to cost a lot to be good. "Brisket is a cheap meat," said Mike. "I saw it for $1.34 lb. last week and when you put it in the smoker for about 16 hours, when you're done people will think it's the best meat they've ever had. It is amazing."
It's OK for meat to sit a few minutes after it's done. "We don't let our meat rest in this part of the country. We cook it and want to eat it right away," said Jay, "It's good to let it rest a little bit before we eat it."
Something as simple as store-bought canned beans can be turned into a delicacy on a grill or a smoker. "A little barbecue seasoning, a little brown sugar people think they were a lot of work and they're really delicious."
"I don't consider myself an expert," he said about his notoriety for outdoor cooking. "I really do believe anybody can do this. I don't think anyone should be freaked out about grilling."
Shaylea said that's where she comes in. "When he does demonstrations or cooks for events, he brings me with so people can see that anybody really can do it."
Mike said some of his best dishes come from combining the processes. His best pork chop is smoked first and finished on the grill. "I love smoking meat," he said, "We smoke a lot - ribs, chicken, roasts and pork shoulders. We do a lot of beef brisket. That's my wife's favorite."
Shaylea Jay helped herself to a stuffed portabella mushroom she and her father, Mike, made on the grill. Other dishes they prepared included smoked pork chops, hamburgers, a whole chicken, stir-fry vegetables and a smoked beef brisket. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls » Purchase reprints of this photo.
"You have to be attentive when you grill, Smoking you can be lazy at. I do a cherry cobbler on my smoker. We do pizzas in the smoker. I literally cook and smoke all the time. There's hardly a week goes by when I don't."
Mike is the father of nine. Most of them are at least a little interested in his unusual hobby when they're not on the go going to ballgames.
"If we aren't interested in cooking it, we are interested in eating it," said Shaylea.
What's her favorite? "Probably my dad's ribs," she said. "They're super-good. People will call him up to make them."
He said boiling ribs like Mom or Grandma did is a no-no.
"You smoke a rib for five hours and you'll get the best ribs you've ever had. If you like it to fall off the bone, wrap it and finish it in foil the last part of the process. Then you won't lose all the ingredients or carmalization. If you cook meat slow all that fat breaks down and marbleizes and becomes juice. That's what keeps your meat really moist."
Mike Jay flipped a hamburger as he grilled on the deck of his Brainerd home. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls » Purchase reprints of this photo.
The No. 1 thing people do wrong when they barbeque is ignore temperature.
"You shouldn't try to guess at it. My digital thermometer is always out. It travels around the deck. You need to know the temperature of your grill and the temperature of your meat."
Some meats have to be watched closer than others.
"If you go over your temp mark on chicken you'll start drying it out. Here in the upper Midwest we incinerate our food," he said.
Another mistake is stabbing meat while it cooks. "Anytime you stab something it's a place for juices to leave the process. The more you can keep inside the better off you are," he explained. Tongs are the ideal tool because they allow the cook to handle, move and flip meat without puncturing it.
Marinating meat is another good way to add flavor. "I make a good pork chop marinade," he said, "and I like some injections too, especially for turkey. I do one with butter, applesauce, apple juice and maple syrup that I inject. It somehow makes the best turkey you can imagine."
A whole chicken and tray of vegetables cooked on the grill were just two of the dishes Mike Jay prepared - for the afternoon lunch and to freeze for his family.
Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls » Purchase reprints of this photo.
But back to those hamburgers.
"There are 200 million recipes for hamburgers and I use a lot of them," said Mike. He likes to use Vidalia onions, different types of seasonings like chives, parsley, and garlic, just to mix things up.
"I'm very bad about one thing," he said. "I don't use exact measurements."
Another tip: Don't flip a burger too many times.
"When the coloring changes on the outside edge of the hamburger you know the backside is done. Once you flip them, let them cook a quarter of the time it took for the front side," said Mike, "and you'll have a perfect burger."
Shaylea has already learned enough to have her own specialty. "I made smoked apples last Thanksgiving," she said.
"You take apples and core them out, put brown sugar and cinnamon inside, a little nutmeg, wrap it in foil and smoke it for 4-6 hours. Put cinnamon ice cream on top. Ooooooh! It's so good."
"I just love any time I'm out cooking," Mike said,looking around the deck, "I'll get up at 5 a.m. to do it."
"Oh yeah," said Shaylea, "and sometimes get up at 3 a.m. to check it."
Sometimes he gets a little flack from friends for sharing his secrets. But his theory is "sharing good barbeque is as much fun as doing it."
If you pass the house in the middle of winter and see puffs of smoke, it's probably only another Jay family dinner.
"My grill chugs away in a snowstorm," he said.
"In fact, the only worthless thing I've ever bought for grilling is a cover."
SHEILA HELMBERGER may be reached at 855-5886 or email@example.com.
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